By Tony Leighton
Darrell Clarke is a Football League manager for the first time after taking over at Bristol Rovers in testing times for the Memorial Stadium club.
Although at 36 he is a very young manager, the former Mansfield Town and Hartlepool United midfielder can hardly be put in the 'rookie' category as he looks to keep the relegation-threatened Pirates afloat in Sky Bet League 2.
Clarke has stepped-up after nine months as assistant manager to John Ward, that assignment following three highly successful years in charge of non-league Salisbury City.
Two promotions took Salisbury up to the top flight of the Conference, as Clarke also led them to the FA Cup third round for the first time in the club's history.
So it was little wonder that Rovers head-hunted the young boss and have now handed him the number one role with Ward becoming Director of Football.
Clarke told football-league.co.uk: "When Rovers asked me to come in as John's assistant last summer it was too big an opportunity to turn down.
"I had really enjoyed my time at Salisbury, both as the club's captain before I hung up my boots and as manager, but I felt that I'd taken them as far I could.
"Working alongside John here at Rovers has been a great learning experience for me, and when the chance to become manager came along I felt I was ready.
"We're obviously in a difficult situation at the wrong end of the table, but it's a challenge that I'm relishing and the players are absolutely up for it too."
The challenge for Clarke and his team, who are six points above the relegation zone with six games remaining, is to maintain the club's Football League status.
The new manager's first two games have brought a win followed by a defeat, and Rovers now face a run-in which includes matches against three of the teams currently below them - Portsmouth, Wycombe Wanderers and Torquay United.
Clarke said: "The teams around us are fighting for their lives and so there's no doubt that we've got some very tough games ahead of us.
"But the players have responded well to me being in charge and I know that they'll be giving it their all to make sure we get the results we want.
"I've not had many training sessions with the squad yet, let alone matches, so it's still early days in that sense. I've got one eye on the future, but the focus at the moment is purely on making sure that Bristol Rovers stay in The League.
"We've got 18 points to play for and we're aiming to get as many as we can."
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